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When you run into problems at work, how do you tell your manager what you did? Typically you would write up the problem, the solution, and a quick summary of the outcome. If you’re like me, this isn’t a lot of fun. And, if your manager is anything like most managers, they don’t want to read a summary of the problem, your actions, and try to figure out how big or small of an impact you had.

TL;DR – use a picture

TL;DR is shorthand for “too long; didn’t read” and it’s used across the web to summarize a tedious article. Since you can’t summarize your actions with “TL;DR – stuff was broke, fixed it, things got fast” we’ll have to come up with another approach. The easiest thing I can think of is using pictures. Kendra and Jes can draw. Brent takes pictures of tater tots. I can use Visio to arrange squares to make a grid. None of us are professional artists, but we make use of a lot of pictures to make things clearer with our clients.

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? While true, a picture can also demonstrate your own worth. I recently worked with a client who were having massive blocking issues. A change had just been rolled out and they were furiously trying to figure out if they needed to roll back the entire change or fix a specific but currently unidentified problem in production. We looked into the situation and found that there were two missing indexes. After a quick chat I created the indexes and the blocking disappeared in a matter of minutes. After an incident, I like to write things up and send it off to my manager or everyone at a client. How do you think I wrote up this incident?

If you haven’t figured out that the answer is “a picture” or perhaps “a screen shot”, go get more coffee. I’ll wait.

That’s right, I wrote this up using a screen shot! We waited for several minutes after the problem cleared up so I could grab this:

This picture is worth at least 1002 words

I couldn’t have written this up more effectively if I had tried. Pictures convey more information in a few pixels than you can convey in the same size block of text. Best of all, pictures are immediately easy for anyone to understand and require almost no effort to produce. Grab a screen shot of Performance Monitor, Task Manager, or your favorite SQL Server reporting tool. That screen shot is gold for quickly demonstrating that there was a problem and the problem was fixed at a certain time. You don’t even really have to understand what’s going on in order to see the effects of what happen. That’s the best part! Pictures make it easy to understand what’s going on without requiring domain specific knowledge – your manager doesn’t have to be a DBA to know that you just saved the day.

Free Screen Shot Tools

Windows users: Windows 7 comes with a free tool that’s called Snipping Tool. Although it sounds like a terrible scissor infested doom, Snipping Tool is a nice utility that lets you take screenshots of a window, a region, or the entire screen.

On the Mac, I use Skitch. It does the same thing as Snipping Tool but it also lets me do some minor image editing.

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  1. Excellent post, Jeremiah.
    What tool did you take a screen shot of in this post? Thank you.

  2. Another free Windows screen shot tool I like is Greenshot. It lets you capture all or part of the screen like the Snipping Tool but also lets you add annotations like lines, circles, arrows, text, etc.

  3. When I show my comparisons, I show my baseline and the final changes in a side by side comparison. I have also been known to create charts so that I have a descriptive picture to show.

    For capturing screenshots, I really like SnagIt by TechSmith. It’s not free, but it is only $50. It’s very versitile. I even use it at home.

    • Thats a +1 to SnagIt from me too.

      Has loads of add-ons, but what really sells it for us is the FogBugz output which ties in with our bug tracking system, and the Evernote one which ties in with our research collaboration tools.

  4. I love Jing for both my PC and my Mac. It allows me to also save photos so I can grab them from other machines if needed.

  5. Thanks for the tip about Skitch. I’m still stuck with the Command-Shift-3, Command-Shift-3, etc. combinations that I’ve started to memorize several of those shortcuts

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